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Felix DRAESEKE (1835-1913)
Symphony No. 1 in G major Op. 12 (1869-72) [35:32]
Symphony No. 4 in E minor/G major Symphonia Comica WoO 38 (1912) [21:55]
Gudrun overture (1882) [11:31]
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Jörg-Peter Weigle
rec. Großer Sendesaal des Landesfunkhauses Niedersachsen des NDR, Hannover, 19-23 Aug 2002. DDD
CPO 999 746-2 [68:58]
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The German composer Draeseke wrote four symphonies. All of them are now to be heard spread across three CPO discs played in a uniform edition by the NDR Radiophilharmonie conducted by Jörg-Peter Weigle. You can also hear a Wuppertal-based reading of the First Symphony coupled with the Draeseke Piano Concerto on MDG 335 1041.

On 19 December 1907 Artur Nikisch conducted a still new symphony at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. It was the third time he had conducted it there but on this occasion the igniting sparks of inspiration fell in profusion. The concert was a triumph for the composer Felix Draeseke and soon his Third Symphony (Symphonia Tragica) was taken up all over Germany and beyond. After his death it was this symphony that provided Draeseke with a very precarious toehold on the repertoire. In fact for many years it was this symphony which held a place for Draeseke in the mono LP catalogue first on Urania URLP-7162 and then on Varese-Sarabande VC81092. The artists were the Berlin Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hermann Desser or Heinz Drewes.

The present disc gives the listener a chance to explore the more arcane works in the Draeseke catalogue but there is a great deal yet to be revived including operas (König Sigurd, Gudrun, Herrat, Fischer und Kalif, Merlin), symphonic poems and overtures, incidental music, cantatas, concertos for violin, cello and piano, three string quartets and much else.

The First Symphony is in four movements. The first shows the influence of Schubert’s Great C major and of Schumann 2 and 4. The effects range from quietly pattering mystery and diaphanous almost impressionistic textures to surging and troubled writing. The scherzo glitters and bubbles with soloistic woodwind contributions and Mendelssohnian bustle by the strings. The adagio is the earth and centre of gravity of the work. It is interesting how Weigle does not allow it to drag pressing forward strongly at the start. I can imagine slower alternative performances. Even so it is a problematic movement with various strong interludes, a feint at a gesture of real brass-lofted nobility but ultimately a movement of promising beginnings one after the other. Fascinating though. The finale continues the bustling athletic Schumann-Schubert manner but weighted towards the heavier end of the orchestral spectrum. Again there are momentarily convincing gestures but ultimately cohesion is flawed.

Between 1908 and 1910 Draeseke had completed two major a capella works - the Grand Mass and the Requiem. In 1910 the young Edwin Fischer took up Draeseke's early C sharp minor piano sonata. In 1912 in Dresden and Berlin his massive ‘Mysterium in Four Parts’, the oratorio cycle Christus was performed. Christus is available in a 5 CD set on Bayer 100175.

It was against this background that he responded to a critic who said that after his triumph with the Tragica he should write a Symphonia Comica. He obliged. Old age had brought greater concision across four movements, each of them circa five minutes duration. The first is dramatic. The second is a puckish and picaresque affair trembling and hiccuping. The light Till Eulenspiegel manner of that movement carries over into the third with light textures and a skipping rhythmic fantastical character. The nimble writing is offset with a rustic heavy-shod dance recalling Beethoven’s shepherds. The finale has the flighty celebratory manner of Schumann and at 00:30 develops a fine long-lined melody with an aspiring quiet theme which returns at the close.

It is a mark of CPO’s attention to quality and detail that there is a long silence between the end of Comica and the start of the Gudrun Overture. This overture starts quiet and sturdy and gradually rises to a triumphant brass chorale of some grandeur and nobility. The theme has a long line which works and ends extremely well and with some originality. There is real concert mileage in this overture. It is fitting that the recording was made in Hannover as it was there in 1884 that the opera Gudrun had its premiere.

Typically CPO have documented this issue with MGG encyclopedic thoroughness.

Two symphonies by Draeseke complete the CPO set. The First is flawed but with its strength concentrated in the first two movements. The Fourth is fascinating and well worth getting to know. The Gudrun overture is a fine addition to the ranks of late-romantic operatic preludes.

Rob Barnett

Felix Draeseke Webpages


Symphony No. 2 CPO

Symphony No. 3 CPO

Symphony in No. 1 G major and Piano Concerto - MDG



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